Amazing Anton laces up his literacy boots
Young Anton Camilleri loved AFL, but literacy was on the bench. An inspiring story by Kerrie O’Connor of how a learning lifeline changed his life.
24 February 2023
With Year 6 looming, Anton Camilleri was becoming anxious. “I didn’t really know how to read and write,” he said.
The efforts by Broken Hill Public School staff were helping but when Anton began showing signs of severe stress his family knew that more intensive intervention was needed before he started high school.
“That was a real low for Anton,” his mother, Rebecca Cutjar, said.
“We started seeing a lot of behaviours come out. He would come home and was this child we'd never seen before.
“He was in a dark place.”
A diagnosis of dyslexia via the children’s health agency, Royal Far West, led to an application for Anton to work with the NSW Centre for Effective Reading.
It would prove a learning lifeline for Anton and a great support for his school.
Broken Hill Learning and Support teacher Bonnie Zacharia supported the application and School Learning Support Officer Erika Fryer was appointed to work with Anton for an hour each morning in Year 6.
Crucially, a once reluctant Anton, who had just been made a school vice-captain, was ready to lace up his literacy boots and commit to the intense effort required.
The results have been transformative, and no-one is prouder than Anton, who started 2023 in Year 7 at Broken Hill High School.
“If I struggled on a word, she [Erika] would stop and help me sound it out and learn the word,” Anton said. “Then I got it right.
“We did compound sentences and compound words.”
Slowly, the rewards came and milestones were passed.
“Around the end of the year I started reading really big books,” Anton said.
Making time to slow down
Lynne Young-Dwarte is a Special Education Teacher at the Dubbo hub of the NSW Centre for Effective Reading.
“Throughout 2022, Anton received a true wraparound support model from the centre and the team at Broken Hill Public School,” Ms Young-Dwarte said.
“Anton has engaged with all school team members and the school’s responsiveness to implement all recommendations has been commendable.”
Ms Fryer said the key to literacy development was building rapport, slowing tuition right down and Anton’s own determination to improve.
“He was ready and wanting to learn,” Ms Fryer said.
She spent a lot of time talking and practising and helping Anton work out concepts, using tricks to sound out and put words together before moving on to writing more complex sentences.
“That allowed us to slow everything right down and practise, practise, practise.”
Anton said: “It felt like it was getting easier when we were doing it slowly.”
Ms Fryer watched him lose his fear and gain self-belief.
“The biggest thing I saw was his confidence grow and his willingness to tackle unknown words,” Ms Fryer said.
“In the beginning, he would just say, ‘I don't know’. By the end of the year, he was having a crack at all the words.”
Words beginning with double or triple consonants, followed by a vowel, are deceptively difficult to decode.
So, when Anton not only attempted, but mastered the word “thrill”, Ms Fryer’s mood was an exact match.
“I went around and bragged to everyone,” she said.
“It was not a word he would have tackled earlier, and it blew me away. There was no way he would have attempted that at the beginning of the year,” she said.
“We call him Amazing Anton.”
'Yes, you can do this'
Anton’s family took heart with his success in reading and writing and could see the difference in his attitude.
“We had been dragging him to school, but he knew he couldn’t do any of the work,” Ms Cutjar said.
“Then everyone got behind him and he was reassured, ‘Yes, you can do this’,” Ms Cutjar said. “He wanted to do more; he loved going to school and enjoyed every part of it.”
Anton finished Year 6 as a transformed student “happy in himself”.
“He went from reading Year 1 and Year 2 books to being able to read the majority of books kids his age would read,” Ms Cutjar said.
“You can see it is a weight off his shoulders.”
Anton’s efforts were crucial. He worked hard and could see the literacy results and now knows that other seemingly difficult subjects, such as maths, might also be in his grasp with support and his own hard work.
As he unlocked the words, Anton found other doors opened.
The gold-plated proof of his improvement came in a competitive theatre performance against other schools.
“Anton was part of our leadership team and he got to go to Tournament of the Minds,” School Learning Support Officer Ms Fryer said.
Broken Hill Public School contestants won the tournament with their gold-themed play and props.
Ms Fryer said Anton had to read his script, remember his lines and “get up and say them in front of everybody”.
“I was impressed,” Ms Fryer said. “When he was improving on his reading, his ability in other areas also grew.”
Now the challenge for Anton in high school is “to learn more than in primary school”, he said.
“I'll learn about science and I'll be on the computers learning about technology.”
His mum, Ms Cutjar, hopes Anton’s progress will continue at high school, with the right technical support.
“We couldn't be more thankful for the centre [for effective reading],” Ms Cutjar said.
“It was probably our last lifeline. They got behind Anton and the growth is just phenomenal.”
Growth mindset and wellbeing benefits
Ms Young-Dwarte, from the NSW Centre for Effective Reading, said Anton’s overall wellbeing has improved.
“Through Anton's commitment and hard work he has built self-confidence, reduced his feelings of anxiety, improved reading skills and academic engagement, decreased overall stress, widened the window of tolerance for minor stressors and allowed for better emotion regulation,” she said.
“Anton will now also openly discuss the difficulties he has had, what he has done to overcome them and beautifully supports others.
“He is feeling confident in his next step as he transitions to high school and has many developed strategies and skills to continue his education journey positively and successfully.”
Broken Hill Public School principal Jonathon Thomas loves sharing Anton’s story.
“It was fantastic to see Anton work through a program which supported a growth mindset that not only challenged him but supported him with strong foundations to move towards success,” Mr Thomas said.
“The collegiate network between the centre, Bonnie Zacharia and Erika Fryer has supported Anton to pursue his social, emotional and academic goals.”
For more information about the NSW Centre for Effective Reading visit https://cer.schools.nsw.gov.au/